Surrounded by soot-covered orange and grapefruit trees, members of the Masjid Ibrahim Mosque in Coachella gathered in the building’s yard Saturday for morning prayer, less than 24 hours after police say 23-year-old Carl James Dial tried to burn the place of worship down.
Dial was arrested late Friday in Palm Desert in connection with the suspected arson-hate crime at the Coachella Valley’s only mosque, 84-650 Avenue 49.
K Sadiq, who stood vigil overnight at the mosque, said people in this world need to question what politicians and religious leaders are telling them before filling their hearts with hate.
“If someone tells you to hate someone, you need to say, ‘Why?’ and not just hate them,” Sadiq said.
The fire occurred more than a week after a mass shooting that killed 14 people and injured another 22 in San Bernardino – it is one of many similar incidents that officials say have been occurring at mosques around the country in response to the San Bernardino shootings, which authorities have said were committed by radicalized followers of an Islamic State group.
According to Riverside County jail records, Dial was arrested along Country Club Drive shortly before 9 p.m. Friday by Riverside County sheriff’s investigators.
He is being detained at the Riverside County Jail in Indio on suspicion of committing multiple felony offenses including: commission of a hate crime, two counts of arson, one count of maliciously setting a fire, and a count of second-degree burglary.
Dial remained jailed Saturday night in lieu of $150,000 bail. He is scheduled to appear in court at the Larson Justice Center in Indio on Wednesday, according to jail records.
His arrest was a comfort to many of the mosque members who gathered outside the mosque Saturday to pay their respects and lend a hand with clean-up efforts.
No one there recognized Dial from his mugshot, and most people were confused that such an incident would happen in such a quiet, accepting neighborhood.
Others were just ready to move forward, fix their mosque and try to put the crime behind them.
“God’s going to take care of everyone,” Kassim al-Wisha said. “We’re gonna fix it. We have insurance.”
The musallah, the room where members pray, was largely untouched by the blaze.
A young man who arrived with plywood to board up the gaping doorway, which was scorched and charred by flames, asked if he would be able to step inside the musallah before beginning to work.
“I just need to pray,” he said before disappearing inside.
Federal authorities began investigating the arson-hate crime just hours after Cal Fire personnel extinguished the 12:09 p.m. blaze. People were praying inside at the time of the fire, but everyone was evacuated from the building and no injuries were reported.
The doorway, lobby and areas where people perform their ablutions before prayer were heavily burnt, but the majority of the mosque sustained only smoke damage.
People described hearing a “loud boom” and seeing flames, Reymundo Nour, the mosque’s acting imam, said Friday. He was not on site at the time, but said the mosque had been “firebombed.”
In a news release issued late Friday, the sheriff’s department stated that investigators “believed this was an intentional act potentially resulting in a hate crime, and utilized all available resources in an attempt to identify and locate the suspect.
“A person of interest was quickly identified and was subsequently located and detained pending further investigation,” the release stated, adding that additional updates would be provided as they became available.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s department would not say Saturday how investigators were led to Dial.
Friday’s incident was not the first time the mosque in Coachella was damaged as the result of a criminal act.
On Nov. 4, 2014, during early morning prayers, someone fired five shots at the mosque. No one was injured in that incident, which was investigated as a hate crime. Despite a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the shooting, the case remains unsolved.
A number of public officials condemned Friday’s suspected arson.
“We see this as a cowardly act of vandalism that we do not tolerate in our community,” Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said. “Freedom of religion is one of our core values in this country, so any time we witness violence or vandalism directed at a religious institution, it flies in the face of everything we stand for and believe in as Americans.”
He was joined by Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit and U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, who each expressed their concern and called for a thorough investigation into the blaze.
The fire occurred nine days after a radicalized Muslim husband and wife committed a mass shooting inside a San Bernardino County employee holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.
Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old San Bernardino County environmental health specialist, and his 29-year-old wife, Tashfeen Malik, used two semi-automatic handguns and two assault rifles to kill or injure Farook’s county coworkers Dec. 2. Farook and Malik were killed later that day in a shootout with authorities. The FBI is investigating the San Bernardino incident.